The state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is currently in the midst of creating an indigenous Combat Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UCAVs at its laboratories in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Dehradun. These advanced combat drones will be equipped with on-board mission computers, data links, fire control radars, identification of friend or foe, and traffic collision avoidance systems. The UCAVs will be adept at firing missiles and bombs at enemy targets with precision.
Currently, the UCAV project is in its nascent stage and there are about twenty scientists who are involved in the project. These combat UAVs will be capable of flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet and would weigh less than 15 tonnes. They will be able to launch missiles, bombs and Precision Guided Missiles.
According to sources, the DRDO has been given an initial amount of roughly $ 11 million as a start-up for the project. The DRDO laboratories which will be involved in the design and development of the UCAVs will be Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) and Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), Dehradun-based Defence Electronics Application Laboratory and Bangalore-based Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE).
DRDO’s UCAV or smart drone programme was dubbed AURA or autonomous unmanned research aircraft. The DRDO had embarked on the UCAV project in 2009 when it was aimed to be produced as part of a plan to develop defence weapon systems. By 2010, DRDO confirmed that all technologies required for the UCAV had been identified, most importantly, the flying wing and stealth technology. DRDO plans to create a special flying wing design to the combat UAVs instead of an aircraft design which other drones have adopted in other countries. The flying wing design would become more elusive with its low radar cross-section and can thereby escape detection by enemy sensors.
According to an earlier statement by DRDO Chief V K Saraswat, the combat drone, which will be able to detect and identify targets and fire weapons at them, will be controlled with command and control centres (CCC) spread across the country. The UCAVs will have short take-off and landing capability on prepared runway. While DRDO is confident on developing and designing these advanced UCAVs indigenously, it may seek consultancy or collaboration from foreign sources, especially in areas concerning stealth and issues related to take-off and landing. DRDO aims to develop the UCAVs for Indian air Force (IAF) by 2018.
While India has an array of UAVs to monitor its sensitive borders, it has definitely taken up the challenge of advanced defence and attack systems in the context of the modern network centric warfare scenario. With highly advanced drones in the west like ‘Predators’ armed with precision-guided missiles, India will also be equipped with its indigenous combative smart drone in the near future. Meanwhile, the Indian defence ministry is also keeping an eye out for procurement of UCAVs from the overseas market. A Request for Information for the combat UAVs was issued last year, but the Request for Proposal is pending.